Beans and Bacon

“Landlord, bring us beans and bacon and a bottle of your finest Burgundy.”  A whole head of garlic (unpeeled) added to a dish produces that sweet garlic flavor that expresses its sweet untampered nature.

Two quick links:

There’s a new porky related blog, porktheory.  Check it out!

I’m going to be adding this post from Oven-Dried Tomatoes to my guest area tomorrow, but it’s totally worth reading right now.

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This recipe starts off with a few pounds of dried navy beans.  I’ve come to the conclusion that keeping a bunch of these around is a great idea.  They’ll never go bad, they’re super cheap, and you can do so much with them.  Consider grabbing a few bags next time you’re at a supermarket.

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The beans were covered with clean, cold water and left to soak overnight.

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The next day, I added the beans to a large pot and again covered them with clean water.  The pot was brought up to a boil, and then reduced to a simmer for a few hours until they were soft and giving.

Interestingly enough Mr. Henderson mentions that once the beans meet salt, they stop softening at all.  And yet I recently read over at Serious Eats that this belief is a long held myth.

Most of us have been told at some point in our culinary careers that salting beans will cause them to toughen. It’s incredible that this little bit of culinary mis-wisdom still lingers, for it couldn’t be further from the truth. A simple side-by-side test can prove to you conclusively that salting beans (both the water used to soak them in and the water used to cook them) actually tenderizes the skins.

It’s got to do with magnesium and calcium, two ions found in the bean skins that help keep the structure of the beans’ skin intact. When you soak the beans in salt water, sodium ions end up replacing some of the magnesium and calcium, effectively softening the skins. Your beans come out creamier, better seasoned, and have a much smaller likelihood of exploding while cooking.

The next time I make this recipe-and I will be making it again for sure-I’ll be salting the soaking and cooking water.  Hooray for chemistry!

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While the beans cooked, I placed a pig trotter and stock vegetables in another pot with just enough water to cover everything.  I’ve made veal stock, fish stock, and chicken stock with great regularity.  This would be the first time I ever made trotter stock.

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By the time the beans were done cooking, the trotter stock was finished as well.

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Now for the other starring ingredient, the bacon.  This was a slab of pork belly that I cured at home.  If you’ve never made your own bacon, it’s time to give it a shot.

Mr. Henderson instructs that the rind-or skin-should be removed from the bacon in one whole piece, because it’ll be used in the recipe later on.

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The rest of the slab was cut into slices.

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In my cast iron dutch oven, a few spoonfuls of duck fat were melted down…

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… and the previously mentioned bacon rind was fried, releasing some of its fat and flavor in the process.

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Likewise, the bacon slices were browned, their fat adding to the rind’s.

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When the bacon was finished cooking, chopped onions, leeks and crushed canned tomatoes were all fried in the bacon fat for a while until everything was softened, and the tomatoes slightly sweetened.  A few ladles of the trotter stock went into the pot at that point along with seasoning.

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I drained the beans, and added them to the vegetable mix in the dutch oven.

Finally it was time to put everything together.

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In the pot I cooked the beans, I placed the bacon rind at the very bottom, and covered it with the sauced beans.  On top of that layer a few slices of bacon were added, then more beans, then two whole unpeeled heads of garlic and the pig trotters.  From there more beans, more bacon were layered until I was out of both.

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The trotter stock was slowly poured into the pot.  I wanted just enough to cover everything.  The pot was covered and placed in a medium hot oven for a few hours.

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When enough time had passed I removed the lid and cooked the beans for another 30 minutes until a nice little crust had formed on top.  The beans were done!

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I’ve never been a big fan of baked beans.  They’re usually way too sweet for my palate.  But this recipe…  wow.  The sauce is just slightly sweet thanks to the tomatoes, but still unctuous and savory.  The trotter stock adds so much to the overall dish it’s hard to explain.  These are beans made for grown ups.  Like the Arch Deluxe, but you know, good.  Aside from trying the salting I mentioned above, the next time I’ll be adding more bacon.  It’s always a little disappointing when you find out that the beans in your bowl are without a little bacon.

I can’t wait for it to get a little colder.  This recipe is going to get made again, and again, and again.  It’s even great in the morning with a fried egg on top!

And now, here’s what you really came for.

One down, forty four to go.

Crispy Pig’s Tails

On other pages I have sung the praises of how the pig’s snout and belly both have that special lip-sticking quality of fat and flesh merging, but this occurs in no part of the animal as wonderfully as on the tail.  Like an ice cream on a stick, a pig’s tail offers up all of the above on a well-behaved set of bones.  By the by, dealing with any slightly hairy extremities of pig, I recommend a throwaway Bic razor (hot towels and shaving cream not required).  You must ask your butcher for long tails.

Happy Labor Day to you and yours, if you happen to be celebrating it.  Since I took last week off accidentally, I’ll be updating today as penance.

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I’d like to first point out that I could not for the life of me find long pig tails.  I asked at farmer’s markets, I bothered foodie friends, and I hit up local butchers.  Nobody in Texas had access to long piggy tails.  I don’t know if it’s because the tails are docked here in America or what, but these stubby little extremities were all I could find.  Please Mr. Henderson, forgive me.

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After removing the tails from their Styrofoam prisons, I gave each one of them a good scrubbing before resting them in a heavy oven proof pan.

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The tails were shortly met with a half bottle of red wine, some chicken stock, the usual stock vegetables, a bouquet garni and some whole peppercorns.  Mr. Henderson asked for a simple braising, and I was ready to play along.  The pan was then covered with heavy duty aluminum foil and placed into a hot oven for a little over three hours.

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After the allotted time had expired I pulled the pan out of the oven and checked to see if the tails had properly cooked.  Mr. Henderson mentions that the flesh should be soft enough to allow one to easily pinch through it.  One quick piggy tail pinch later and their doneness was confirmed as acceptable.

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At this point the tails needed to cool down and solidify, so they were placed in the fridge for the evening.

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The next day my wife and I set up three bowls for breading the now cold piggy tails.

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The first bowl held a few cups of flour seasoned with salt and pepper.  Special thanks to my wife for the hand modeling.

The second bowl was filled with raw eggs mixed with some of the always excellent Colman’s mustard.

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Finally, the tails ended up in a big bowl of panko bread crumbs.  Mr. Henderson never specified which kind of bread crumbs he expected us to use, so I went for my favorite.

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The tails were then placed into a butter-filled, sizzling hot pan.  I quickly tossed each tail in the butter a few times before dropping the whole thing in a sweltering hot oven to brown.  How good does that sound?  Gold brown pig tail?   Mmm, mmm, mmm!

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And here is the finished product, served with a side salad of watercress.  The tails on their own are fantastic: crispy, fatty, porky goodness in a hand friendly package.  Mr. Henderson suggests that diners might enjoy they tails with a spot of malt or red wine vinegar, and he’s quite right.  You really need something acidic to cut the fatty nature of the tails down a little.

The next time you head to the Asian market, check if they have pig tails handy.  If they do, FIND A WAY TO MAKE THIS RECIPE.  Beg, borrow or buy a copy of the book and do yourself a favor.   I totally intend on making this again, and soon.  It’s just that good.

One down, forty eight to go.

Lamb and Barley Stew

A dish which like to be made a day before eating.

Oh, why hello there!  I know it’s been a little while since I’ve updated, but last weekend I was dealing with a post-surgery puppy.  I hope you’ll understand.

A few quick links before we get into it:

Chef Martin Vine of San Antonio tweeted this awesome link to me.  If you hit the next button at the top right, you’ll get a look at an great series of photos taken at a class given by Fergus Henderson.  Thanks to Chef Ben Ford for the images!

Over at the Belm Blog, David had his way with a hog’s head and really did it justice.

I’m a fan of offal on Facebook (crazy, I know) and recently a link to a news story titled “Portland pig cook-off followed by brawl over the provenance of pork” was posted.  The event was the famed Cochon 555, and the fight took place over the lack of locally sourced pork.  I can appreciate the passion, but not the altercation.

Hank Shaw recently held a class on butchering lamb that my friend Luna Raven attended.  It’s a great read, I wish I had been able to make it too.

Okay, on to the post!

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Many recipes should start off like this: with five and a half pounds of red meat on the bone.  That right there is lamb shoulder, cut into cubes.  I don’t know if you’ve bought that much lamb recently, but man, it’s not cheap. So if you plan on making this dish, gird your pocketbook.  Also, Mr. Henderson asks for you to use a pan to hold it all.  I think he must have meant for one to use a pot because my largest pan could barely contain the lamb meat, and with even more ingredients need to join the party, I can’t imagine how big of a pan you would actually need.

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Joining the meat are a few bay leaves, an herb bundle, a scant amount of peppercorns and a pinch of salt. Water was added until everything was covered.  I kicked the heat up and brought the pot to boil, and then I moved over to start working on the vegetables Mr. Henderson asks for

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One of the reasons I was excited to make this recipe was that I’d get a chance to finally work with and eat kohlrabi.  Curious about their background, I did a little research and learned that they are cultivars of the cabbage, and so their flavor is very similar to, well, cabbage.

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The kohlrabi, some leeks, a few carrots, and a bunch of shallots were all cleaned, peeled, and cut into appropriate sizes for the stew.

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The pot was brought down to a gentle simmer, and then I skimmed, and skimmed, and skimmed.  And then I skimmed a little more.  Let it be known that five and a half pounds of boiled lamb meat gives off a lot of scum.  All of the prepped veggies were added to the pot, along with one more thing:

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The barley! Mr. Henderson warns us that using too much barley in this recipe would be a bad idea, as it has a “bad habit of taking over.” I added a big handful to the pot, and then left it mostly alone for an hour.

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When the kitchen timer started going off, I knew that the stew was ready to be taken off the heat. I decanted the still hot stew into a big plastic container, and let it cool down to room temperature before putting it into the fridge. There’s no good sense in heating your fridge up, right?

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Then next day, I was greeted with this. All of the fat had collected at the top of the container and solidified. The recipe instructed me to remove all of this tasty white gold…

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… so I did. I saved the lamb fat and stuck it back in the freezer. Maybe I can strain it for use somewhere else down the line.

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The stew was then returned to the stove to reheat. When it was properly simmering again, I added salt and pepper and removed the herb bundle. The dish was complete.

At the very end of the recipe, Mr. Henderson mentions that some people might, “be tempted to add more oomph to this dish,” but that he’s, “all for its soothing, gentle qualities.” And I totally agree with him. You might assume that the richness of the lamb chunks might over power the rest of the ingredients, but that’s just not the case. There is a wonderful harmony that is struck somehow amongst the chaos that is a stew. The kohlrabi were like hearty bites of thick boiled cabbage, the barley added grassy notes, and the broth was delicate and light. It’s a subtle, comforting stew that would easily bring warm smiles on a cold winter night.

One down, fifty five to go.

Hash

A very good dish if you are feeling a little dented.

This is a very useful and delicious way of using up the remains of your Pot Roast Brisket and Boiled Beef and Dumplings.  I cannot tell you how much you will have left over, so we cannot be exact here.  Look at your remains and decide what will be appropriate.  You will need roughly equal amounts of meat and veg.

Firstly, I’d like to say Happy New Year to everyone!  I know I’m not the only person ready to forget that 2009 ever happened.  2010 is looking good so far, so let’s keep it going!

Secondly, another cook the book blog has joined the fray: Momofuku At Home.  I’ll admit that I was secretly hoping to start working on David Chang’s magnum opus myself, even going so far as to buy a domain name.  Thankfully, Chris over there is doing a fine job, kicking things off with some awesome looking steamed buns and pork belly.  Head on over and say hello!

While this recipe is a fantastic way to finish off that corned brisket you made last night, I ended up needing to make a whole new corned brisket for this post.  Terrible fate, right?  While I was shredding the meat, I noticed that it lacked the usual rosy pink color that one would expect with corned beef.  The reason can be summed up with this little blurb from Hank Shaw’s awesome site.

Do you add flavorings to the brine? Yes, you do; it’s what makes your corned meat different from mine. Do you add sugar? Probably, as it softens the salty twang of a salt-only brine. Do you add nitrite? Yes. And this is where I defend the stuff: Nitrites are what give you that pretty rose color. Nitrites add flavor. And most importantly, nitrites defeat botulism, which is among the most toxic substances known to man.

Can you make corned meat without nitrites? Yes. But it will look gray, lack the proper flavor — and you will have a small-but-real possibility of dancing with your new friend clostridium botulinum. And it will be a brief dance. Do nitrites cause cancer? Not in the levels used in modern meat. The poison’s in the dose, like a lot of things. Booze for one. Fat for another. OK, I’ve said my piece. If you hate the notion of adding nitrites to your brine, leave them out.

So that means that not only have I dealt with acid, I’ve also been playing Russian roulette with lethal diseases!  Pair those two with fire and knives, and I’m shocked I’ve not managed to do any real damage to myself or my loved ones.  Cooking: it’s not for pansies.

In a cast iron pan, chopped onions were fried in a little olive oil until they were nice and soft.

In another pot I started boiling a bunch of little red potatoes.  I love little potatoes.  They cook quickly and sport the same big flavor of larger spuds.  Once they were finished cooking, I chopped them roughly and set them aside.

Next, crushed canned tomatoes were added to the onions and allowed to cook for a little while.

At this point the onions and tomatoes had fulled cooked through and were ultra soft.  I mixed in the shredded beef and chopped potatoes, and then seasoned everything with just enough salt and pepper.  No more over-salting for me!   The pan looked a little dry at this point, so I added some leftover tomato juice.

While the hash cooked in the cast iron skillet, I fried two eggs with a little butter.  Pretty much anything could stand to have a fried egg added to it, right?

And here’s the final dish.  A healthy amount of steaming hash in the bowl, with a fried egg right on top.  While you won’t find something like this at Alinea or French Laundry, that’s quite all right.  It’s a much more homey, simple recipe that’s meant to be enjoyed on those cold days when you want to be comforted (Like right now in Texas.  Brrrr!)  The hash itself was rather filling, and very tasty.  Meat, potatoes, tomatoes and onions topped off with a fried egg sounds like a lumberjack’s breakfast, and that’s okay.  Heck, I’d say that a man could work all night and work all day with a meal like this.

One down, sixty two to go.

Chicken And Pig’s Trotter

To serve four.

I was hoping that this update would be about the process of making salted cod, but I’m going to need a little more time to let the fillets completely dry out.  Maybe next week.

At first glance this recipe looked very similar to Coq Au Vin minus the mushrooms, but with a very important addition: trotters!

Oh, trotters.  Forget “Ode to a Grecian Urn“, why the heck hasn’t anyone written a poem about pig’s feet?  Mr. Henderson thinks rather highly of them, and here’s why:

These are one of the most gastronomically useful extremities.  If your butcher has pork, there must be a trotter lurking somewhere.  They bring to a dish an unctuous, lip-sticking quality unlike anything else.  The joy of finding a giving nodule of trotter in a dish!

These pre-split trotters were picked up at my local megamarket for about three dollars.  That’s right, three bucks!  You can’t beat that price with a stick.

In a big pot I placed the trotters, a few stock vegetables, a bouquet garni and some chicken stock and red wine.  The pot went into a medium hot oven for a few hours to braise the trotters, causing them to release their fat and collagen into the wine and broth.

When they were sufficiently cooked I removed the trotters from the pot, setting them aside to cool off.  Removing the skin from trotters isn’t like removing the skin on a tongue; letting the trotters cool off is actually okay.  Next I strained the wine/broth liquor and returned it to the heat to reduce and intensify.  When the trotters were no longer unbearably hot, I picked all of the flesh from them and added it to the reducing liquid which was left to simmer for another hour.

Finally a chance to show of my home made bacon!  Using the method Mr. Ruhlman describes in his book, “Charcuterie” I recently cured and smoked my very own pork belly.  Consider me a convert: home made bacon beats the store bought stuff hands down.  It’s just not a contest on any level – except perhaps convenience.

After lopping off a pound of cured belly I removed the rind (AKA the skin) and cut the bacon into chunks.  You just can’t do this with the bacon you find in your local supermarkets.  Consider this a plea from me to you:  If you haven’t tried making your own bacon, now is the time to try!  It’s so darn easy, I’m a little ashamed of myself for not making some sooner.

A little bit of duck fat was added to a hot pan, then pearl onions and the bacon rind went in as well to brown.  I was supposed to add shallots but when I made this dish it was Easter weekend and all of the nearby markets were closed down.  Those are Wal-Mart pearl onions.  I’m sorry.  When the pearl onions were properly browned I added them and the rind into the same pot the trotter flesh went into.  Have you ever heard someone exclaim they wished there was such a thing as smell-o-vision? Consider this another declaration if you’re keeping track.  The kitchen smelled AMAZING!

A quick chicken breakdown and I was ready for the next step…

… getting the pieces properly browned.  This was a nice change of pace.  No gray chicken here folks.

I placed the chicken into an ovenproof container and poured the long simmering, ultra flavorful wine/stock liquor over it.  On top of that the bacon lardons were sprinkled much the same way you would jimmies over ice cream.  The whole thing was then covered with foil and placed into a hot oven for another hour to completely cook the chicken.

Here’s a quick recap of what’s on the plate for you:

Chicken
Trotter Flesh
Pearl Onions
Bacon Hunks
Wine/Stock Reduction

Be still my beating heart! (Take that however you want.)

Served with mashed potatoes, the dish was complete.  The first bite brought back a flood of memories from my childhood.  My father–who is quite a good cook if I say so myself–had come up with a very similar dish all on his own through trial and error.  It was one of my favorite dinners he would make, though he used beer in the place of wine.  The flavors were very close regardless.  The chicken ended up being nice and moist, and acted as the perfect pairing with all of the porky goodness.

If you’ve ever eaten Coq Au Vin then you might be thinking you have a good idea of what this dish was like.  WRONG.  This is Coq Au Vin on pork steroids.  To paraphrase Emeril, Mr. Henderson, “took it up a notch!”

One down, seventy eight to go.